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No New Abnormal

Tag: new music

Brilliant, Haunting New Works From Iranian Composers Soheil Shirangi and Shervin Abbasi

Teheran-based composers Soheil Shirangi and Shervin Abbasi have released an aptly titled, haunting new album Maelstrom, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a diverse but persistently dark collection of works for both solo instruments and small ensembles. The two draw on influences as vast as European minimalism and horizontal music as well as traditional Iranian sounds. In a year of one horror after another – especially in Iran, which was one of the first countries crippled by prppaganda and hysteria – this is indelibly an album for our time. Yet the music here also offers considerable hope and even devious humor.

The first work is Trauma, a Shirangi trio composition played by cellists Ella Bokor and Mircea Marian with accordionist Fernando Mihalache. The strings enter with a syncopated, mutedly shamanic drive that quickly rises to an insistent pedalpoint. The accordion first serves as a wary chordal anchor while the cellos diverge and then return with an increasingly stricken intensity, then wind out with plaintive washes.

Violinist Mykola Havyuk, clarinetist Yaroslav Zhovnirych and pianist Nataliya Martynova play Abbasi’s The Rebellion, beginning more hauntingly microtonal, its austere resonance punctuated by simple, forlorn piano incisions. Eerie, circling chromatics from the piano underscore troubled, anthemic phrases. A couple of vigorous flicks under the lid signals a wounded call-and-response: slowly but resolutely, a revolution flickers and eventually leaps from the desolation. The obvious comparison is the livelier moments in Messiaen’s Quartet For the End of Time.

By contrast, To Lose Hope – another Abbasi piece, featuring clarinetist Mykola Havyuk and a string quartet comprising violinists Marko Komonko and Petro Titiaiev, violist Ustym Zhuk and cellist Denys Lytvynenke – first takes shape as a hazy cavatina, Havyuk’s crystalline leads balanced by brooding cello and shivery vibrato from the rest of the strings. It’s the most distinctly Iranian piece here. The jauntiness, acerbity and suspense that follow are unexpectedly welcome. The point seems to be that hope is where you find it.

Afrooch, an Abbasi solo work played by violinist Farmehr Beyglou, requires daunting extended technique, shifting back and forth between ghostly harmonics, moody atmosphere, insistently hammering riffs, shivery crescendos and a call-and-response that grows from enigmatic to puckish. The ending is too funny to give away.

The closing composition, Shirangi’s The Common Motivations is a solo piano piece, Sahel Ebae’s low murk contrasting with muted inside-the-gestures, expanding with spacious minimalist accents and eventually forlorn, Messiaenic belltone chords. If this is characteristic of the new music coming out of Iran these days, the world needs to hear more of it.

A Fascinating Album of New Music From the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra’s Home Turf

One of the most consistently interesting and richly diverse albums of symphonic music released in the last couple of years is the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra’s latest recording, Contemporary Colours, a collection of new works by Maltese composers streaming at Spotify. Malta may be a relatively small place, but the country clearly has no shortage of orchestral or compositional talent. Many of these pieces reflect an edgy Arabic influence; the rest run the gamut from neoromanticism to horizontal music.

Led with striking attention to detail by maestro Sergey Smbatyan, they open with a triptych by Euchar Gravina inspired by the manufacture and then the deployment of fireworks. The first two segments are a a microtonal study in slowly rising, occasionally crushing wave motion against a recording of a brass band playing a much smaller-scale arrangement; most of the third is much more low-key.

Waiting, by Mariella Cassar-Cordina is exactly that, still horizontality from the high strings with a pensively minimalist, increasingly troubled cello solo floating overhead. Christopher Muscat’s magnificently charging, circling, hauntingly minor-key Mesogeios – a portrait of the Mediterranean – features soloist Francesco Sultana on microtonal, melismatic Maltese zummara oboe, zaqq bagpipe and flejguta flute, winding up with a ferocious, Egyptian-tinged dance.

Veronique Vella’s colorful, artfully orchestrated, Romantically tinged Fine Line has a Rimsky-Korsakov sonic expanse and triumphant bustle. Alexander Vella Gregory’s short, Tschaikovskian five-part suite Riħ (Wind) evokes everything from calm sea breezes to winter storms, via pulsing counterpoint, disquieting close harmonies, percussive drama and whispers from the strings.

The orchestra close with Albert Garzia’s Xamm (Scent), a largescale arrangement of a dance piece about a murder mystery. The orchestra have fun with all the classic Bernard Herrmann-ish tropes: sharp tritones over stillness, sudden furtive swells, chase scenes and a surprising amount of Dvorakian windswept calm. Classical music as entertainment doesn’t get any better than this in 2021. Now if we could only see this live!

A Massive, Exhilarating Double Album From the Spektral Quartet

One unexpectedly entertaining feature of the Spektral Quartet’s lavish double album Experiments in Living is an “online card deck emulator” that facilitates very strange, quirky yet also insightful ways to create playlists from its vast range of material. Modeled after a tarot deck, it’s meant to defamiliarize the listener and, one suspects, lure them into hearing something they might not otherwise choose. Plenty of diehards will see the Ruth Crawford Seeger quartet here and immediately dial up all four movements, in order. But the card deck is a cool idea: it never hurts to listen outside the box. And if you just want to listen to the album inside the box, literally, it’s streaming at Bandcamp.

The material ranges from the well-worn to the once-and-still-radical to the more recent, adventurous sounds the group are best known for. How do they approach the Brahms String Quartet No. 1? The first movement seems fast, a little skittish, very acerbically rhythmic: they’re keeping their ears wide open. Even if you find the music impossibly dated, this version definitely isn’t boring. Those echo effects really come into sharp focus!

By contrast, the nocturnal second and third movements come across as careful, pastoral tableaux, the changes very proto-ELO. The group – violinists Clara Lyon and Maeve Feinberg, violist Doyle Armbrust and cellist Russell Rolen – cut loose on the intertwining finale. The close-miked clarity of the individual instruments in the mix is superior: Rolen’s quasi-basslines have a welcome presence.

Schoenberg’s String Quartet No. 3 is right up their alley, from the first movement’s icepick exchanges to its hypnotic yet restlessly acidic counterpoint and a paint-peeling ending. Dynamic contrasts are subtle but striking, particularly in the more muted second movement. Balletesque precision alternates with sullen sustain and soaring highs in the third; the quartet’s unexpectedly slinky groove in the fourth is a revelation. Defiance has seldom been more resolute than this.

It’s a hard act to follow, but the Seeger quartet is every bit as gripping and a brilliantly contemporaneous segue (1931 for her, 1927 for him). In a word, wow. The ensemble attack it with a light-fingered, sometimes almost fleeting pointillism, an endess thicket of echo effects and sudden tradeoffs in the first couple of movements. The griptite resonance of the third seems almost backward-masked as phrases or single notes pass around the sonic frame; the group, particularly Rolen, really dig in vigorously up to a sudden end that’s just as coy as Schoenberg’s.

The first of the 21st century pieces is a Sam Pluta diptych, a shivery, punchy round-robin punctuated with droll, often cartoonish extended technique: harmonics, white noise, things that go bump in general, all of it amusing to hear and brutally hard to play.

Flutist Claire Chase joins the quartet for Anthony Cheung‘s 2015 suite The Real Book of Fake Tunes. Her assertive, rhythmic swells balance with the strings’ pizzicato bounce, then a microtonal haze sets in, punctuated by wry echoes and leaps. The third segment, with its stark microtonal chords and flute scurrying amid them, is edgy fun, as is the alternatingly whirling and grittily suspenseful fourth part. The conclusion bristles with good jokes and peek-a-boo riffage: it stands up amidst some very formidable material here.

Singer Charmaine Lee, who writes and improvises in phonetic language, teams up with the group for her surrealistically playful 2018 piece Spinals. This is what the word “sillypants” on the tarot card generator will get you, complete with what sounds like turntable scratching, whether acoustic or electronically generated.

The quartet close with George Lewis’ String Quartet 1.5: Experiments in Living, from two years earlier. Keening glissandos and flickers dance and swing over chugging, sputtering, often ridiculous riffage, with circular, microtonal clusters punctuated by droll flicks and punches. Definitely sillypants – with daunting extended technique and a little horror movie ambience to keep you (and the band) on your toes.

Transient Canvas Have Irrepressible Fun with Bass Clarinet and Marimba

What is the likelihood that a bass clarinet and marimba duo would even exist, let alone commission over sixty new compositions for such an unorthodox pairing? Transient Canvas – bass clarinetist Amy Advocat and marimba player Matt Sharrock – cover all the bases in the lows and the highs, and have built an often absolutely fascinating body of work. For anyone who feels daunted or overwhelmed by the sheer effort it’s going to take for us to end the lockdown, this group’s very existence is an inspiration: if they can succeed, so can we. The irrepressible duo’s latest album Right Now, in a Second is streaming at Bandcamp.

As is typical for this pair, there’s a lot going on here: this is new classical music as entertainment. They open with Barbara White’s Fool Me Once, beginning with a series of variations on a catchy, circling bass clarinet riff, Advocat up the scale just a little below the marimba. If the squall and then the hazy atmospherics afterward aren’t improvised, White’s done a great job imitating it. Looming ambience, a playful game of knuckles and a more wistful conversation ensue, going out with a wry whisper. Likewise, Jonathan Bailey Holland’s Rebounds begins with good-natured call-and-response and then calms, the amusement factor growing more subtle. 

Emily Koh’s \Very/ Specifically Vague is inspired by from Singaporean English patois, Advocat’s precise trills and the occasional upward flare contrasting with Sharrock’s anchoring accents and ripples. Clifton Ingram’s triptych Cold Column, Calving draws on the 2008 Jakobshavn Glacier calving incident where a chunk of ice the size of lower Manhattan broke off into the Atlantic.  The composer also seeks to explore the development (some would say devolution) of bicameral brain hemispheres. Again, a lot of call-and-response is involved, in a spare, spritely, noirish, Bernard Herrmann-ish sense. Told you there was a lot going on here!

Resonance Imaging, by Crystal Pascucci reflects the composer’s many angst-filled experiences inside a MRI tube, both via a sardonic evocation of  mechanical blips and buzzes, and Advocat’s resolute spirals and sheets of sound as Sharrock edges toward more lyrical territory. A MRI as edge-of-your seat carnival ride, who knew?

The album’s title track, by Stefanie Lubkowski is a neat interweave of alternately sustained and rhythmic riffs for the duo to negotiate. They wind up the record with the jaunty, lilting, minimalist variations of Keith Kirchoff’s Monochrome.

Lively Ambience From Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti and Anna Thorvaldsdottir

Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti is a violist on a mission to build the repertoire for her instrument. One of the most captivating, immersive albums she’s released to date is her recording of Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s electroacoustic triptych Sola, streaming at Bandcamp.

For many listeners and critics, Thorvaldsdottir epitomizes the vast, windswept Icelandic compositional sensibility of recent decades. This mini-suite is on the livelier side of that zeitgeist. The first movement begins with slow modulations, dopplers and flickers of wind in the rafters of some abandoned barn on the tundra – or at least its sonic equivalent. However, Lanzilotti gets many chances to add austere color and the occasional moment of levity via steady, emphatic phrases and the occasional coy glissando.

There are places where it’s hard to figure out which is which, Lanzilotti’s nuanced, delicate harmonics, or Thorvaldsdottir’s own keening electronics, which are processed samples recorded earlier on the viola. The brooding, droning, fleeting second movement seems to be all Lanzilotti – at least until the puckish ending. The conclusion is more lush, similarly moody and enigmatically microtonal, again with the occasional playful flourish. Even in the badlands, life is sprouting in the ruts.

As a bonus, the album includes a podcast of sorts with both performers discussing all sorts of fascinating nuts-and-bolts details, from composing to performing. Listening to Thorvaldsdottir enthusing about traveling to premieres and leading master classes will break your heart: based in the UK, her career as a working composer has been crushed by the Boris Johnson regime.

An Enigmatic, Immersive Mini-Suite From Majel Connery

Singer Majel Connery‘s work, like pretty much every first-rate vocalist, spans a lot of styles. In her case, that runs from the baroque to the avant garde, as part of new music ensemble Oracle Hysterical and the duo Hae Voces. Her album Anything Chartreuse – streaming at Bandcamp – is a four-part suite told a woman’s perspective. in response to Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo.

The first part of August, the opening piece, recalls the catchy minimalism of recent Serena Jost: “Since we’ve washed ashore let’s shiver, sense the sensation of grasping flesh,” Connery intones, up to a big enveloping swell. Oracle Hysterical’s orchestration eventually recedes and the song comes full circle with an echoey, dissociative but triumphant conclusion.

This Much and More has a glitchy trip-hop groove and strangely oscillating, icily processed loops behind Connery’s pensive, calmly expressive voice. Pulsing with backward-masked textures, Rebeam Me could be Shara Nova in a particularly calm moment. Connery winds up this immersive and strange little partita with This Kind of Love, which distantly brings to mind the old Cindy Lauper hit Time After Time run through a pitch pedal for a chilly choir effect.

Troubled, Intertwining Atmospherics in Trumpeter Nate Wooley’s Latest Seven Storey Mountain Installment

Trumpeter Nate Wooley’s ongoing Seven Storey Mountain project has a new sixth edition available and streaming at Bandcamp. It’s nothing like anything else in the series: haunting, often chaotic and even downright macabre in places. Although it was recorded prior to the lockdown, it uncannily seems to prefigure what the world has suffered this year.

The single 45-minute work begins with allusions to Renaissance polyphony fueled by the slightly off-key violins of C. Spencer Yeh and Samara Lubelski. Met by droning washes of harmonies from Susan Alcorn’s pedal steel, the atmosphere grows more ominous, Emily Manzo’s spare piano building funereal ambience.

Isabelle O’Connor’s similarly minimalist Rhodes piano enters the picture and suddenly a disorientingly syncopated clockwork interweave appears, with the flutters from drummers Chris Corsano, Ryan Sawyer and Ben Hall. From there it grows even loopier, circular riffs and nebulous atmospherics filtering through the mix in the vein of a contemporary, electronically-enhanced horror film score. It’s here that Wooley’s agitated, echoey lines first appear through the sonic thicket.

Sirening violins, broodingly steady Rhodes chords and a kaleidoscope of flickering noise ensue. It’s not clear where or even whether guitarists Ava Mendoza or Julien Desprez join in, or whether those scrapes which could be guitar strings are coming from the percussion section, until finally an icy, squalling patch played through an analog chorus pedal. It’s probably Mendoza but maybe not.

Drums and guitars and who knows what else reach a terrorized Brandon Seabrook-like stampede as the band hit fever pitch. The group bring it full circle with what seems to be a twisted parody of an organ prelude and a baroque chorale: the final mantra is “You can’t scare me.” This is by far the darkest, most psychedelic, and ultimately most assaultive segment in Wooley’s series yet, perhaps an inevitability considering the state of the world in 2020.

Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti Playfully and Imaginatively Expands the Viola Repertoire

As a violist, Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti is keenly aware of the scarcity of repertoire for her instrument beyond orchestral and string quartet music. So she decided to do something about it with her debut full-length album, In Manus Tuas, streaming at Bandcamp. She takes the title from the centerpiece, a Caroline Shaw composition originally written for violin. Lanzilotti came up with a new arrangement for that one, along with a tantalizing handful of other recent works originally scored for either violin or cello in addition to a world premiere of her own. There are many different flavors on this beguiling and often deviously funny album: Lanzilotti chose her source material well.

She joins forces with pianist Karl Larson for the first of two Andrew Norman works, the five-part suite Sonnets. The fleeting introduction pairs eerie, close-harmonied, Mompou-esque belltones with droning minimalism and a surprise ending. The even more abbreviated To Be So Tickled is exactly that: a coy romp. Part three, My Tongue-Tied Muse is just as vivid, if very quiet and spacious. The two return to wryly romping humor with So Far From Variation and conclude with Confounded to Decay, Lanzilotti’s hazily straining harmonics contrasting with Larson’s moody, judicious phrasing.

Shaw’s piece is a solo work that comes across as a salute to Bach interspersed with gritty harmonics and dynamically shifting pizzicato: the cello-like low midrange is striking. Lanzilotti plays her own composition, Gray, with percussionist Sarah Mullins, who gets to deliver a very amusing intro and foggy drumhead work before Lanzilotti’s muted microtones and overtones enter the picture: they’re Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldmund up too early with a hangover.

The second Norman work, Sabina, is a quasi-raga punctuated by all sorts of carefully modulated harmonics. Lanzilotti concludes the album with the dissociative harmonies of Anna Thorvaldsdotttir’s uncharacteristically animated, sometimes drifting, grittily oscillating Transitions, originally a work for solo cello.

A New Retrospective Album of Energetic, Irrepressibly Entertaining Dorothy Hindman Works

This blog has always gravitated toward music that reflects the world around us. Even so, over the past nine years, there has never been such a relentless barrage of persistently troubled and often tortured sounds as the year of the lockdown has given us. Today is a welcome break from that. Dorothy Hindman is all about fun, whether in your face or in the distance. She writes meticulously intertwining, generally optimistic, energetic music: she’s a one-woman cloudbreak. She tends to favor wind instruments, percussion, and dancing upper-register melodies, although what she writes in the lows is just as catchy. Her music has a carnivalesque side, but it’s playful rather than macabre. It’s hard to pin down her influences: there’s nobody who sounds remotely like her. Her new album Blow By Blow, featuring a multitude of inspired small groups and a couple of larger ones, is streaming at Spotify.

The Frost Flute Ensemble romp with a meticulous staccato through the first piece, Mechanisms, a clever series of variations on an incisive, pointillistic theme: is this about how much fun we can have with machines, or a cautionary tale about how they tend to take over our lives if we’re not careful?

Baritone saxophonist Frank Capoferri and pianist Lauralie Pow even more irresistible fun trading off catchy bass riffs in Big Fun, Pow both outside and under the piano lid, evoking Paula Henderson and Gina Rodriguez’s legendary New York dance-punk band Moisturizer.

The Splinter Reeds quintet premiere Hindman’s diptych Contents Under Pressure, its cheery, clustering riffs set to tricky staccato syncopation. Flutist Donald Ashworth plays Trembling, an etude with carefree motives and birdsong allusions punctuated by fleeting moments of daunting extended technique.

Drift, performed by the Atlas Saxophone Quartet has the same leaping, balletesque, staccato quality as the album’s opening number, with some richly suspenseful, Bernard Herrmann-esque harmonies and contrasting with tongue-in-cheek goofiness. Lori Ardovino plays Soliloquy for Clarinet, nimbly negotiating its enigmatic allusions to Messiaen, spacious cascades and shivery duotones.

Soprano saxophonist Carey Valente Kisselburg and pianist John Elmquist prance through Lost in Translation, whose title could be a sardonic reference to its variations on lively Indian-tinged themes. The Frost Saxophone Quartet follow with Cascade, a deviously expectant study in contrasts and suspense with a little Gershwinesque pageantry thrown in.

Untitled 1, performed by the Switch Ensemble, comes as a shock, vast Anna Thorvaldsdottir-like waves punctuated by spare piano, winds, washes of percussion and troubled, hovering motives. It’s uncharacteristically dark, yet it may be the strongest piece here.

The Georgia State University Percussion Ensemble tackle the marimba piece Multiverses, addressing the idea of infinite possibilities through intricate, dynamically shifting echo effects: it’s an upbeat, reverse image of Satie’s Vexations. Tapping the Furnace, a rather suspenseful solo drum-and-vocal piece performed by that group’s director Stuart Gerber, recalls the dangerous and often deadly blast furnaces of the 20th century steel industry in Birmingham, Alabama.

Marimba player Scott Deal’s solo take of Beyond the Cloud of Unknowing is similar but more spacious and enigmatic. The Frost Symphonic Winds conclude the album with Fission, Zarathustra throwing a benefit for Mr. Kite, bursting with lively circling horns over hazy atmospherics.

Gamin Creates a Wild New Universe Blending Korean and Western Sounds

Gamin Kang, who performs under her first name, is a master of Korean wind instruments including the piri flute, sheng-like saenghwang and taepyoungso oboe. She’s made a career out of cross-pollinating with magical, otherworldly, centuries-old Korean folk themes. Her latest album Nong – Korean for “jam,” more or less – includes several collaborations with western ensembles and composers, a bracing and often entrancing series of mashups that hasn’t hit the web yet. Her music is unlike anything else in the world – and she hopes this will springboard more collaborations like it.

The album’s opening piece, Mudang – meaning “shaman” – by Theodore Wiprud is an alternately playful and sternly emphatic piece for quavery piri and string quartet. The ensemble Ethel aptly emulate the low rhythmic insistence of the traditional janggu drum and then flutter and flicker, echoing the soloist’s reedy blue notes throughout this strangely resolute mashup of traditional Korean themes and 21st century western string quartet idioms.

On the Courtship Displays of Birds-of-Paradise, a triptych by Anna Pidgorna begins with The Black Sicklebill, its contrasting textures, cascading chords and suspenseful ambience from the reeds of Michael Bridge‘s accordion and the saengwhang, along with ominous knock-knock effects. In part two, Parotia, it’s even less clear where the keening tones of the saengwhang and accordion diverge, at least until jaunty staccato chords and droll birdsong accents kick in. The Princess Marcia (an imaginary species invented by the composer) turns out to be both shy and ostentatious, with a coy sense of humor.

Violinist Omar Chen Guey and cellist Rafi Popper-Keizer join the bandleader for William David Cooper‘s Two Pieces for Piri and Strings. The strings mimic both the quavery intensity as well as the ghostly haze of the piri in the first part; the variations afterward alternate between anxious leaps and bounds, plucky accents, plaintive resonance and then a stark dance. It’s arguably the album’s most striking interlude.

Eun Young Lee‘s Bagooni – Korean for “basket” – features both the piri and saenghwang along with the string duo in a starkly glissandoing, insistently shamanic but playfully contrapuntal and expertly interwoven tableau. Longtime downtown New York jazz artists Ned Rothenberg and Satoshi Takeishi join the leader, who plays both piri and taepyungso in the album’s concluding, blues-based improvisation. The contrast and tension between the Korean reeds and Rothenberg’s bass clarinet and sax over Takeishi’s hypnotically undulating, folk-influenced percussion is bracing but also conversational, through Rothenberg’s keening duotones, a spine-tingling taepyungso solo and a blazing, syncopated coda. In a year where music was sadistically and abruptly put on pause (or potentially on “stop”) by the lockdowners, this wondrously intense album testifies to what can be accomplished when artists are unmuzzled and free to associate..